Peer Mentoring in Youth Ministry: Passing on the Power of Presence

Youth Specialties
July 19th, 2016

Jason’s post below is a great reminder of all we can learn from each other when we gather together. Join us at the National Youth Workers Convention this fall in Cincinnati, OH to connect with and learn from the full family of youth workers.

My first memory as a kid was the day I “graduated” from the nursery at church to the next class up.  It’s not exactly a pleasant memory.  I’m pretty sure I went kicking and screaming.  I really didn’t want to “move up” and I let everybody know it.  Nursery life was comfortable…not much was expected of me.  And, I wanted to stay.

Fast forward about forty years, and now I’m a youth pastor who’s seen a lot of students “graduate” and “move up” from one stage of life to the next.  Some of them go kicking and screaming, but the majority of them can’t wait to move on.  And, it’s not just the high school seniors suffering from senioritis.  It’s the fifth graders who can’t wait to move up to middle school youth group.  And, it’s the eighth graders who can’t wait to move up to high school.

More and more students are so focused on what’s next that they’re missing out on what’s now.

One of the challenges we face in youth ministry is helping students see the value of looking backward instead of being consumed by looking forward.  The fact is many older students in our ministries are missing out on a huge opportunity to invest in the younger students behind them.  Most of the time, they are either too distracted by media and the culture around them or discontent with the reality that they are still just kids…and they check out.

Ultimately, the power of presence in our older students has been lost in a mash-up of distraction and discontent, and it’s making them become disillusioned with youth group at the time when we need them to be “all in” the most.  We need them to be fully present as 8th graders investing back into our middle school ministries and seniors investing back in both middle school and high school.  Otherwise, we just perpetuate the current cycle of students who “check out” of youth group a year or two early.

So, how do we do that?  

How do we help our older students pass on the power of presence to our younger students?  

How do we help them look backward and invest in the students behind them and not just look forward to what’s next?  

I can’t say that we’ve figured out the “right” answer to these questions, or that we’ve even been successful at doing this every year.  But, here are just a few ways we’ve tried to help our older students be “all in” in our youth ministry by looking backward and investing in the students behind them:

1. Utilizing student-led small groups.

Most youth ministries have a small-group component built into the regular rhythm of the school year.  In our context, we have juniors and seniors lead our weekly high school small groups.  This keeps them not only connected to our ministry, but also keeps them invested in the lives of other students.  We’ve also built our small group ministry into our Sunday morning schedule, which has helped keep students coming to church and not checking out of that altogether either.

2. Recruiting Middle School leaders.

No doubt many of us have recruited some of our older, “mature” juniors and seniors to be middle school leaders.  High school students make great middle school leaders for lots of reasons.  But, sometimes their lack of maturity can create challenges as well.  In our middle school ministry, we recruit juniors and seniors as small group leaders, but then we pair them up with a “mentor” to lead along with them.  Mentors are generally college students or young married couples, but we’ve found that parents can also be great middle school leaders (and mentors) too.  The beauty of this setup is that you have multiple layers of investment happening at the same time.  And, it works because the leaders understand the power of presence and are willing to look backward and invest in the students behind them.

3. Leveraging the influence of parents.

If we really want students to pass on the power of presence in our youth ministries and value the idea of looking behind them, then we’ve got to figure out a way to leverage the influence of parents.  Studies have shown that it’s the parents, not us, who ultimately have the greatest spiritual influence on their kids.  So, we work hard at communicating regularly with the parents of our students and building the value of presence in our youth ministry.  We even invite them to join us on events throughout the year and on our summer missions trip.  Basically, we give parents every opportunity to look backward and invest in the next generation, and to help us pass on the power of presence to their kids.

These are just a few of the ways we’ve tried to help students pass on the power of presence in our youth ministry.

What about you and your ministry context?

How are you helping students pass on the power of presence?

jasonJason Matthews is a youth pastor in Washington state, where he’s been serving students for over 20 years.  When he doesn’t have to be in the office, he loves to be outside with his family, hiking and exploring the Pacific Northwest.  He also loves to write, and you can find more of what he writes about at one of his blogs (www.verseotheweek.wordpress.com & www.pjasonmatthews.wordpress.com).

Youth Specialties

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